Pirates foiled in their second attack on Maersk Alabama cargo ship
Posted by dorian on November 18, 2009
November 18, 2009 1:00 p.m. EST
(CNN) — A U.S.-flagged ship that played a central role in a bloody hijacking drama last spring was attacked again Wednesday, a busy day for piracy in the dangerous waters off the east coast of Africa.
The Maersk Alabama came under automatic weapons fire from pirates about 350 nautical miles east of the Somali coast, the European Union’s anti-piracy force said, but fought the attackers off.
The same ship was hijacked in the Indian Ocean in April, and its captain, Richard Phillips, held hostage on a lifeboat for five days before U.S. Navy snipers shot three pirates dead. A fourth pirate was arrested, and Phillips was rescued.
This time, private security guards on the Danish-owned ship fended off the pirates by shooting back and using loud sounds, EU and U.S. naval sources said.
Security has been beefed up on the vessel since the attack in April, Maersk spokesman Kevin Speers told CNN.
No casualties were reported on the ship, but pirates on land in Somalia feared the attackers may have been killed or wounded, or may have drowned, they told a local journalist. There has been no contact with them since they attacked the Maersk Alabama, a pirate in the central Somali town of Harardhere said.
Pirates in Somalia are concerned about them, since their last communication was while they were battling the cargo ship’s security guards, the pirate said.
Pirates on land also exchanged gunfire — with one another.
They fought among themselves Wednesday over a multimillion-dollar ransom they received for releasing a Spanish fishing boat, the local journalist in contact with the pirates said.
“There was a heavy exchange of gunfire between some of our friends,” one pirate told the local journalist, speaking of the other pirates. “They fought over the 3 million euro [$4.5 million] received as a ransom from the Spanish boat.”
At least two pirates were wounded in the gunfight in Harardhere, a pirate stronghold in central Somalia, the local journalist told CNN. The two are in a critical condition and have now been transferred to the town of Galka’yo.
The Alakrana, the Spanish fishing vessel, was freed Tuesday along with its 36 crew members, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said. It had been held for 47 days.
Zapatero did not say how the ship was freed. Spanish media — including CNN sister station CNN+, which cited a source it said was close to the negotiations — reported that a ransom had been paid.
A top prosecutor in Madrid on Wednesday called for an investigation into the reported ransom.
National Court prosecutor Jesus Alonso sent a written request for the ransom investigation to Judge Santiago Pedraz, asking that the financial web involved in the alleged payment be untangled, including commissions paid to intermediaries in the negotiations, CNN+ reported from the courthouse.
The prosecutor also called on the judge to take testimony from all 36 crew members from the ship.
Various government ministers have sidestepped questions since Tuesday about whether a ransom was paid, but Spanish media reported the payment to the pirates totaled $3.5 million to $4 million.
A leading Spanish fishing industry executive, Juan Manuel Vieites, told CNN on Wednesday he was certain a ransom was paid for the release of the Spanish tuna trawler.
But Vieites, who heads the Euroatun pan-European tuna fishing industry group and a Spanish tuna canning association, said he wasn’t sure about the amount of the ransom. He declined to provide details.
The crew included 16 sailors from Spain and 20 from Africa and Asia.
A day after the hijacking, Spanish military monitoring the situation captured two pirate suspects as they left the fishing boat and later brought them to Madrid. The two were indicted Monday on 36 counts of kidnapping and armed robbery.
They could face sentences of more than 200 years in prison each because of the multiple kidnapping counts.
Pirates have captured more than 50 ships this year off Somalia.
CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman in Spain contributed to this report.